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5 posts from October 2007

October 31, 2007

The fine art of bird-dogging

This week’s post reproduces my column “On Business Development” from the October 2007 issue of Law Firm, Inc.

Business development is about listening to a potential client’s needs, says Joe Melnick, one of the most seasoned marketing executives in the legal business.

At Butzel Long, a 225-lawyer firm based in Detroit, Joseph Melnick describes a big part of his job as chief marketing officer and director of strategic planning as “a combination of lead bird-dog and matchmaker.” Melnick figures he spends up to 30 percent of his time developing contacts in the local business community and in targeted associations. He thinks others should follow suit. “Marketing professionals need to spend more time in the business community, developing relationships and representing the firm,” he says.

But getting out and about, he goes on, is just the beginning. To be effective, a CMO also has to make new business contacts the right way. “It’s all about listening,” he says, “not about explaining your capabilities.”

A quietly attentive CMO who doesn’t try to market his firm’s talents may sound like a perverse sort of role reversal, but Melnick believes in letting his attorneys do the actual selling. He sees his job as understanding the potential client’s needs and then matching those needs with the appropriate Butzel Long attorney.

Once he provides an introduction, Melnick gives the lawyer insights into what should happen next, based not just on the business needs, but on the people involved. “I set up the first date, and the lawyer takes it from there,” he says. This makes it possible for the lawyer to go into that first meeting with a clear idea of what needs to be done, and focus on providing legal advice and services.

For example, for more than a decade Melnick has been active in Automation Alley, a business alliance to attract high technology firms to southern Michigan. Finally, at one Automation Alley reception, Melnick got his chance: A senior county official described a challenge he faced involving the performance of a technology vendor, and asked for ideas on how to address several complex issues. As chance would have it, a Butzel Long lawyer with significant experience in this area was at the same reception. Melnick introduced the two, and Butzel Long was later hired to handle a significant litigation, which led to follow-on referrals. When Automation Alley got a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to help small businesses boost their exports, Melnick also helped plan the organization’s first trade mission to China and arranged for two of the firm’s lawyers to travel as part of the mission.

Melnick is quick to point out that the introductions he offers are only a gambit. “There is no substitute for the strong relationships that develop between lawyers and their clients,” he says. “At the end of the day, clients want and need to build personal relationships with the lawyers who provide their key services.”

Bird-dogging evidently pays off. Melnick has headed Butzel Long’s marketing effort for more than 15 years, no small achievement in legal marketing. He says he’s “going for the record” for the longest marketing tenure at a single firm, and he just might get there.

October 24, 2007

Business development for associates – Eight steps to make the most of your limited marketing time (Part 2 of 2)

Last week, I outlined the first five steps associates should follow to assure that they get the largest possible return on their limited marketing time. This week, Steps 6 to 8.

Step 6. Get more advice from other lawyers.

  • Go to lunch with a mentor or your practice group leader to discuss the firm’s approach to marketing, the role of associates, and how you can help partners meet their goals.
  • Talk to senior associates and to partners about how business development really works in your firm. Get them talking about how they found their top clients, what has worked for them, and what hasn’t.
  • Schedule a meeting with someone in the firm’s business development or marketing department to discuss resources available to you and how they can help you achieve your goals.
  • Ask other lawyers:
    - What organizations should I join?
    - What should I read?
    - If you were in my position, what would you do?

Step 7. Prioritize relentlessly

For time-limited associates, prioritizing is by far the most important step. Start by listing action items based on your research and/or the items below. Then decide which action item is likely to provide the best return on your time. Get that one under control before you start the next.

  • Build personal and professional relationships with others at your level in client organizations. (But talk to others in your firm first to make sure you understand what types of contacts are encouraged for associates, and what types are not.)
  • Consider the importance of “internal marketing” within your firm:
    - Your most important “clients” may be the partners and senior associates you work for.
    - Ask them to rate their satisfaction on a scale from 1 to 10. Then ask how to increase that rating, even if you are already a 10.
    - Make sure you know the partners who do the sort of legal work you want to pursue, and make sure they know you.
    - Get to know the administrative and business staff who can make your life easy. Recognize the help they provide, and thank them for it.
  • Make a list of all the people you should keep in touch with, from law school classmates to college friends and acquaintances, and establish simple systems and habits to stay “top of mind.”
    - With your peers, recognize that it may take years before they rise to positions where they could hire your firm.
    - Nevertheless, now is the time to keep developing those relationships.
    - Also see Increase new business by re-connecting with past clients and colleagues.
  • Consider joining a trade association or community group where you could meet potential clients.
  • Consider whether speaking and/or writing is a good way to increase your visibility, and whether it is the best use of your limited time. (See Get more results from writing.)
  • Consider becoming active in your local bar association.
    - This can have many benefits above and beyond business development, but it can also take a lot of time.
    - On the plus side, many lawyers find this to be a low stress way to begin networking.
    - On the minus side, depending on the nature of your practice, most of the people you meet may be competitors who would never send work to your firm.
    - Ask yourself how likely you are to get new engagements through the people you meet, and whether this is the best use of your limited business development time.

Step 8. Follow up consistently

The single most important factor is developing new business is following up, week after week, month after month, and year after year. It won’t always be easy, but it will work.

Desk_reference_cover_with_border_5 This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Desk Reference.  For more information, Download legalbizdevsuccess_kit_summaryl.pdf.

October 17, 2007

Business development for associates – Eight steps to make the most of your limited time (Part 1 of 2)

Associates face special challenges in business development, primarily due to their lack of time. Tactics that are exactly right for other lawyers may be wrong for associates, because they distract them from more urgent tasks.

This eight step process was designed to help assure that associates get the maximum return from their limited marketing time.

Step 1. Review your firm’s policies and expectations

Different firms have different policies regarding associate marketing, and you need to start by understanding exactly what is expected of associates at your level. So, before you do anything else, speak to several people about how your firm sees the associate role in marketing.

  • What would the firm like you to achieve?
  • How much time can you devote to business development?

Limit this step to a few hours. In some firms, that will be more than enough time, because the answer is straightforward and clearcut. But if you find that different partners have substantially different views on this, just find out what a few key people think, and move on to the next step.

Step 2. Schedule at least an hour or two for business development, every week
If it’s not on your calendar, you probably won’t do it. So if you decide to invest two hours per week in developing new business, pick a block of time such as 12-2 PM every Tuesday, and put it in your appointment software or book.

We recommend choosing a day early in the week, so that you can reschedule it if something else comes up. And the middle of the day is a good time, because some of your activities may involve lunch. For more details, see How much time do you need for business development?

Step 3. Track the time you actually spend on business development, every week
As management guru Tom Peters put it: “What gets measured gets done.” So if you are serious about developing new business, you will need a continuing system to track your time and your efforts.

If your firm will support your efforts and has a time code that fits, tracking it in the official system can be useful. But whether you do this on the record or off the record, you should keep a simple list like this on your bulletin board to remind yourself of exactly where you stand.

Week of

Hours on biz dev













You may be thinking it would be better to track time every month. Great minds think alike: that’s what I said to my first sales coach. What he said to me was: “Doing it once a month makes it too easy to put it off, and to fall behind. Do it every week.”

Step 4. Define your long-term goal
Develop a long-term plan for defining your legal identity, the niche services you want to provide, and how to become known by potential clients. For more details, see How to define your niche and How to define your ideal client.

Step 5. Develop an “elevator speech”
As you begin to talk to others about your goals and activities, it is often helpful to have a sentence or two ready that summarizes your background and/or what you want to achieve. For more details, see A worksheet to create an elevator speech.

Next week, I will discuss the other three steps:

Step 6. Get more advice from other lawyers
Step 7. Prioritize relentlessly
Step 8. Followup consistently

Desk_reference_cover_with_border_4 This post was adapted from The LegalBizDev Desk Reference.  For more information, Download legalbizdevsuccess_kit_summaryl.pdf.

October 10, 2007

What’s different for associates?

A few weeks ago, I gave a speech at a Boston hotel called “Six ways to increase results from your limited marketing time.” Most of the questions from the audience focused on associates.

It reminded me that whenever I give speeches in house or in public, there are often a disproportionate number of associates in the audience, and they are the ones most likely to ask questions.

Many associates are worried about the future of the legal marketplace, and with good reason. They are the ones who will have to adapt the most in the long term, as the business model continues to evolve. And in the short term, when financial pressures arise at firms, associates worry that they will be the first to get squeezed.

There is also a widening gap between the traditional life style in large firms, and the life style that associates want. According to the 2007 Hildebrandt Client Advisory: “Younger lawyers (both partners and associates) today have different interests and expectations than the current generation of law firm leaders. Typically, younger partners are interested in maintaining a more ‘balanced’ lifestyle than they see evidenced in their own firms.” (p. 10) That’s one of the reasons associate turnover now runs at about 20% per year, more than double the rate just a few years ago.

Whether they plan to stay at their current firm or to move on, associates can see that business development is absolutely vital to career success. But they never took a course in law school, and many have no idea where to begin.

At a theoretical level, the principles of business development are the same for associates, partners, and everyone else. But at a practical level, there are enormous differences in the way these principles must be applied, for several reasons:

1) Associates are starting from scratch in building personal networks, and in establishing professional visibility and reputations.
2) Expectations for associate marketing vary widely from firm to firm, and sometimes even within a firm from partner to partner.
3) Junior, mid-level, and senior associates need different goals and tactics.
4) Most importantly, associates typically have less time available for marketing than any other lawyers.

All of these factors lead to the same conclusion: While every lawyer must prioritize marketing activities relentlessly, associates must prioritize the most.

Next week, I will describe exactly how to do this, with an eight step process for associate business development adapted from the new edition of my LegalBizDev Workbook which will be published next month.

October 03, 2007

A new book on marketing for associates

The American Bar Association recently began publishing a new series of books called the Law Firm Associates Development Series. It is a sign of the growing importance of business development that the first book in their series is The Law Firm Associate’s Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills.

The authors -- Catherine Alman MacDonagh and Beth Marie Cuzzone -- are two of the people who convinced me to focus to legal business development (after almost 20 years of training and coaching sales professionals and others). They are also co-founders of the Legal Sales and Service Organization (along with Silvia Coulter), and are widely accepted as leaders in this rapidly growing field.

If you’re starting to think that I may be a biased reviewer, you are absolutely right. I loved this book, and it’s not just because I am a contributing author. It’s because this is exactly the type of overview that associates need. And the fact that the book was published by the ABA will help to assure credibility and wide acceptance.

The book is filled with useful checklists, tips, and techniques, such as:
• A list of 17 activities that drive superior relationships (p. 94)
• A format for a sample business plan (p. 18)
• Tips on how to get the most from your on-line bio, including how to maximize your visibility to search engines (p. 26)
• A checklist for how to plan a meeting with a prospective client (p. 67)
• A section on how to network inside your firm (p. 50)
• Eight questions to start conversations at a networking meeting (p. 38), and several ways to end them (p. 42)
• Advice on how to publish articles that will help bring in new business (p. 62)
• A checklist and a questionnaire on a selling opportunity that many lawyers miss “The end of the matter” (p. 95)

My favorite list in the book is their “Great Lawyer Test” (p. 5) which consists of nine simple questions, including:
• Do you respond to clients within one half day or less?
• Do you provide value to clients?
• How do you know?
• Do you know your clients’ industries?
• Do you balance the cost of your advice with the potential risk to the client?

The book even includes a CD with Microsoft Word files of critical sections, so that you can easily use the lists and customize them to your needs.

This book won’t make marketing easy, because nothing can. But it will help associates get started in an area that many find mystifying, and all agree is critical to their long term professional success.

In my opinion, the only thing missing from this book is detailed guidance for associates to prioritize action items to make the most of their very limited time. I’ll talk about exactly how to do that over the next three weeks.